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Ferdiand II 1810-1859

Ferdinand II (1810-1859), King of the Two Sicilies, was the first monarch against whom revolution erupted in 1848, the fir st to concede a constitution, and the first to initiate a successful counter-revolutionary movement. Upon his succession to the Bourbon throne on November 8, 1830, he demonstrated a zeal for reform in both the Neapolitan mainland and Sicily, where he encouraged hopes for greater autonomy. Bureaucratic inefficiency, corruption, persistent peasant misery, and his own attachment to eighteenth century principles of enlightened despotism, when a more modern spirit of romanticism and constitutional liberalism was spreading among the bourgeoisie and advanced nobles in his realm, worked to frustrate his hopes and alienate his subjects, especially after his turn to increased centralization after 1837. Dissatisfaction intensified in 1846-47 under the impact of famine, an economic crisis, and the excitement aroused by liberal concessions granted in central and northern Italy. Ferdinand had to crush uprisings in Reggio and Messina in September 1847. He remained convinced that his state already possessed the laws an d institutions that other peoples wanted, but he grew apprehensive, more so after soundings revealed that Austria would not commit itself to help in case of revolution.

Revolution broke out in Palermo on January 12, 1848. Calling for the constitution of 1812, the rebels succeeded in repulsing the royal troops sent against them. Threatened with the loss of Sicily, confronted by uprisings in the provinces of Salerno and Cilento, intimidated by a massive demonstration in Naples on January 27 in favor of a constitution and upset by the weakness of conservative regimes in Italy and beyond, Ferdinand bent. On January 29 he accorded a constitution modeled after the French constitution of 1830. The Neapolitans welcomed it, but not the Sicilians, whose insistence on complete autonomy led Ferdinand's new, moderately liberal ministry to ask England and France to mediate with Palermo. Ferdinand also hoped to gain the support of other Italian governments for his retention of Sicily through the formation of an Italian league, which he backed. After the Five Days of Milan and Sardinia's declaration of war against Austria in late March, Ferdinand recalled his ambassador from Vienna (April 20) and permitted a Neapolitan force to move north to participate in the national struggle; he was acting reluctantly, under pressure, still with the hope that the Italian governments would support his rights over Sicily. When the revolutionary Sicilian government, suspicious of his intentions, rejected his proposals for self-government and, on April 13, declared him deposed, the Carlo Troya ministry (Ferdinand's third since January), supported his vigorous protest.

Meanwhile on the mainland elections, based on a restricted suffrage, sent to Naples deputies, who, although mostly moderate, were determined to make the constitution conceded in January more democratic, and, in effect, give constituent powers to the legislative assembly. This issue was central to a dispute between Ferdinand and the deputies over the oath of allegiance the latter were supposed to take upon the convocation of the parliament set for May 15. Becoming ever more excited by reports of the quarrel, the capital's populace began to erect barricades, despite the efforts of some deputies to calm them. When on May 15 firing began between the insurgents and the royal troops Ferdinand refused to halt his forces until they had smashed the barricades and dominated the capital. This action signalled the Bourbon monarch's break with the national and liberal forces in Italy. Confident once again, he did not immediately turn to full scale reaction, but appointed a more conservative ministry, dismissed the legislature which had never met, and recalled his troops from northern Italy. Royal forces managed to suppress an uprising in Calabria by the end of July. Ferdinand called for new elections but neither he nor his ministers paid heed to the assembly once it met; he peroged it on September 5. When the parliament convened again on February 1, 1849 it lasted approximately forty days, never to meet again.

Secure on the mainland by late August, Ferdinand dispatched a force of twenty thousand men under General Carlo Filangieri, supported by a naval squadron, to subdue the Sicilians. The royalist bombardment of Messina amid fierce fighting (September 3-7, 1848) earned Ferdinand the epithet "King Bomba" in liberal and democratic circles. After Messina fell, English and French insistence compelled Ferdinand to accept an armistice. Their mediation led him to offer the Sicilians, in the form of an ultimatum, their own constitution and parliament, but not their own army. Still distrustful, the Sicilians rejected his ultimatum and hostilities resumed. By May 15, 1849 Ferdinand's forces had reconquered the island.

Ferdinand took pride in the fact that he was the first European sovereign to dominate the revolution and that he had done so without foreign assistance. He never formally abrogated the constitution he had conceded in early 1848. It remained , however, a dead letter as he increasingly enclosed himself in a system of bureaucratic centralization and reaction. A long trial, begun in 1851, of men implicated in the events of three years before kept fresh the wounds of 1848-49, already aggravated by prison sentences for conspiracy meted out to prominent liberals such as Carlo Poerio and Luigi Settembrini. More and more isolated at home, Ferdinand pursued a policy of non-involvement abroad, convinced that he could maintain his paternalistic system b y insulating his realm and relying, as in 1848, upon his own skill and armed strength. He drew back from joining even a conservative Italian league in the aftermath of 1848 and resented the hectoring of outside powers, including Austria, when they counselled reform in the 1850s. His obvious pro-Russian inclinations during the Crimean War, despite his formal neutrality, angered the French and English, already critical of his political repression.

Ferdinand was intelligent but uncultivated, amiable but cynical, well-meaning but narrow in his views. His negative, parochial policy left his kingdom vulnerable to the dynamic forces of nationalism and liberalism which triumphed shortly after his death on May 22, 1859.

Raymond Cummings


Acton, Harold. The Last Bourbons of Naples. London: Methuen and Co., Ltd., 1961.

Cingari, Gaetano. "Gli ultimi Borboni: dalla Restaurazione all'Unita." In La Storia della Sicilia. Vol. 8. Ed. by Rosario Romeo. Naples: Societa editrice Storia di Napoli e della Sicilia, 1977-1981.

Moscati, Ruggero. Ferdinando II di Borboni nei documenti diplomatici austrici. Naples: Ed. scientifiche italiane, 1947.

Moscati, Ruggero. "Ferdinando II e la crisi napoletana - del '48." Chap. in Il Mezzogiorno d'Italia ed altri saggi. Messina: G. d'Anna, [1953]

Paladino, Giuseppe. It quindici maggio del 1848 in Napoli. Milan: Societa editrice Dante Alighieri di Albrighi, Segati e c., 1920.

Ulloa, Pietro. Ferdinando II. Naples: Esi, 1967.

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